Friday, September 28, 2012

How to make Candi Sugar to add to a Belgian Dark Strong (and an ESB)

Hey Readers!
This is Curtis' official Head Assistant Brewer.  I had some extra time on my hands recently and decided to design and brew my own batch of beer.  Well, actually I designed two and did a double brew day.  I settled on a Belgian Dark Strong and and English Pale Ale (also known as an ESB, which stands for Extra Special/Strong Bitter).

I ended up making a small batch of candi sugar (1/2 lb) and adding it to the ESB.  Although this is not typical for an ESB, I did it anyways.  In return I got the most amazing ESB I have ever enjoyed.  The candi sugar gave it some complex characteristics of caramel, toffee, and malt that is apparent in both the aroma and flavor.  With some East Kent Goldings hops for balance and Crystal 120L for some subtle dark fruit character, this is a very drinkable beer that will need to be brewed again soon!

When I started researching about Belgian Dark Strong beers, I found that it is common to use Belgian candi sugar.  I thought that would be complicated, but a little research assured me that it was quite simple.

Here is what you need for 1 lb. of candi sugar:
-1 lb sugar
-1/8 tsp. citric acid or 1/2 TSP. lemon juice
-1/3 C. water
-a little time

Add sugar, water, and citric acid in a pot.

Stir over medium heat.

After a few minutes, it will look like this.

Several minutes later, you'll get something that looks like this.

When your candi sugar is the desired color, put the top on and count to 10.
This will bring the temperature up to around 300 F so it can become a "hard crack".
This is not necessary if you will be using it right away. However, if you want it to
break apart into pieces, it needs to be that hot.

Use a silicone mat (since I did 2 1/2 lbs of sugar for the Belgian Dark Strong,
I didn't want it to make a mess, so I used a 9x13 dish underneath) and allow to cool in the fridge.
Don't use wax paper! The candi sugar will stick to it and then you'll have paper in your beer.
 Things to consider:
-If adding very hot candi sugar (250F) to boiling wort (212F), be careful as it may cause a boil over.
-If you get your candi sugar to a "hard crack" level, you can let it cool, break it a part, and freeze it until you brew again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery

Magnolia  Gastropub & Brewery
Magnolia is located in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. We stayed long enough for just one beer and I enjoyed an imperial pint (20oz) of a nice cask conditioned Bonnie Lee's Best Bitter (won Bronze at 2011 GABF). They specialize in easy drinking session beers, most of which are English style ales (the bitter I drank was just 4.1%). This makes for easy drinking, and if we had time, we could have hung out and several beers without getting buzzed. The atmosphere was very cool - incorporating aspects of an English pub and lifestyle of San Francisco. I didn't try the food but it is quite tasty, though a bit pricy also (probably consistent with other restaurants in SF though).

Magnolia - Beer Menu Board

Awesome leather backed booths!

The Bar

Liz and Lindsay


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Solvang Brewing Co & Silverado Brewing Co

Solvang Brewing Co:
We stayed in the Danish town of Solvang, CA for one night on our way up to Northern California and decided to check out Solvang Brewing Co. We read some reviews and found that the beer was pretty good, but the food wasn't - so we planned on just having beer, but were so hungry we decided to eat there.

The three beers we had (Liz had a Raspberry Wheat, I had their pale and and IPA) were average; nothing too remarkable. The Raspberry Wheat actually tasted pretty good at first, but as it warmed became a bit to syrupy sweet. If you're passing through and want a beer, it's a decent place to stop for a beer. The servers were friendly but a bit unorganized, which their frustration came through about that a couple times, but was never directed at the customers. Find another place for food though; the food really brought down the experience for us.

Silverado Brewing Co:
Silverado is located in St Helena in the Napa Valley area. We were getting a bit wined out from all the wine tasting so we stopped in here for a pint during happy hour. I had their fiery fries which were awesome! The IPA and IIPA were just average; again not a bad place if you're in the area and want a craft beer. The bar tender was also friendly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Firestone Walker Brewing Co

Firestone Union System
Firestone Walker, located in Paso Robles, CA was definitely one of the highlites of my trip to Northern California. We stopped in first at the Brewery Tasting Room, had a few tasters then went on a brewery tour. We were impressed how knowledgeable all the staff were in about beer. Each time they handed us a taster, they would tell us a description of the beer, such as how it was brewed and what characteristics were in the beer. Our tour guide was probably the most knowledgeable about beer and of course the brewing process. Firestone clearly has an excellent training program which includes ongoing training for their servers. The employees are given triangle tests at least weekly to see if they can pick out the one different beer, to help ensure quality of the product and improve their tasting repertoire.

Firestone uses their version of the Burton Union system for fermenting, which they call the Firestone Union. The Burton Union system is described as follows by Brew Your Own (original article located here):
Me - with the Firestone Union System
Traditionally, a union system (later referred to as a Burton Union after becoming linked to its use in the Burton area) is a network of several wooden casks and troughs interconnected via copper plumbing. All of the casks work in union during fermentation, commingling their beer and yeast. As the beer ferments, pressure pushes some liquid up into long troughs above the casks (like blowoff in a homebrew setup), where the yeast settles out of suspension and the remaining volume of beer trickles back into the casks. This allows for easy harvesting of yeast — essentially a form of top cropping — for immediate reuse. It also minimizes the loss of beer through blowoff.
The Firestone Union system is different, in that it is simply a stack of oak barrels that are not interconnected and are used only for secondary fermentation (conditioning), not primary fermentation (except for one beer - Double Barrel Ale - DBA, which goes through primary and secondary fermentation). This system still creates a unique beer to Firestone which is some of the best beer in the world.

Looking down into the brewery from the brewhouse platform.


Mash Tun - raking the mash.

Boil kettle - wort is being recirculated through the top and sprayed out the top under the pan.

Kegging Line

My wife with the kegging line
Kegging Line


The brew house

Bottling Line


More Fermentors!

Firestone Walker Tap Room

Enjoying a Porter at the adjoining Firestone Walker Restaurant.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Four Peaks Brewing Co

Tasting flight of 8 (plus a bonus seasonal)
Four Peaks Brewing Company was the first of 13 breweries and brewpubs I visited during my Beercation and these guys are definitely worth checking out! We visited here after my wife finished her exams for a much needed refreshment - her for the test and me for the 120 degree heat! The food here was quite tasty - I had the Italian beef wrap, which was really a french dip sandwhich in thick wrap (made with beer) that was delicious, but certainly not Italian. My favorite beers were the Hop Knot IPA and Kilt Lifter (oddly - the same name as Moylan's Scottish style ale). The Arizona Peach was actually quite tasty as well. It had distinct apricot arom and flavor (which could easily be peach as well). I am not generally a fan of fruit flavored beers but this one was very interesting and brewed particularly well. The oatmeal stout was tasty - exceptionally smooth because it was served on nitro.

Italian beef wrap (minus the one I ate)
I was able to get a brewery tour by one of the very friendly brewers (actually two tours- since he gave me tour alone when I struck up a conversation with him on my way back from the restroom, then a second tour with my wife and two friends who wanted a tour as well of course - and he was gracious enough to give us another tour! The brew house is 40 bbls (Newland System) and they are in the process of expanding to a second 60 bbl system. Arizona law only allows for 40,000 bbls of production at one facility, so they will be keeping there current system online once the 60 bbl system is in place. The 240 bbl fermenter in the back was quite impressive - it takes 4 brews to fill this fermenter! Their serving tanks are the old grundy style tanks (which are very difficult to find these days). The owner had a source for them when they first opened up and reconditioned them and sold them to other breweries to help fund the start up of this brewery. Next time your in Phoenix, be sure to visit Four Peaks Brewing Co!

Mash Tun/Boil Kettle


Same fermentors - different angle)

Bottling line

Canning Line

Canning Line (with Kilt Lifter loaded)

More fermentors (or brite tanks)

I believe these are brite tanks

Bar cold room - lots of grundy tanks!

Your's truly and my wife - (holding the can she was given off the canning line)

And yes - it was 120 degrees outside, so who knows how hot inside the car,
so they only way to hold the steering wheel was to wear my wife's gloves.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Santa Cruz - Steamers Lane
I just returned from a 12 day, 2,000 mile road trip vacation that essentially was a beercation with quite a few great wineries thrown in there as well. I'll be posting a series of articles about each brewery, and likely a round up post of the wineries. It started with a trip to Scottsdale, AZ so my wife could take a national interpreting exam out there; then heading up to Napa/Sonoma/San Francisco by way of the beautiful central coast of California. If you've never driven Highway 1 up the central coast - make sure you put it on your bucket list. I've included some photos of the beautiful coastline for your viewing pleasure.

Here's the list of breweries we visited:
- Four Peaks Brewing Co
- Solvang Brewing Co
- Firestone Walker Brewing Co
- 21st Ammendment Brewing Co
- NapaSmith Brewery
- Silverado Brewing Co
- Moylan's Brewpub
- Russian River Brewing Co (3 Times!)
- Anderson Valley Brewing Co
- Bear Republic Brewing Co (Brewpub)
- Lagunitas Brewing Co
- Magnolia Brewpub (San Francisco)
- Speakeasy Brewing Co

Wineries we visitied:
- Domain Carneros
- Nicholson Ranch

- Gundlach Bundschu
- Grgich Hills Estate
- Rombauer
- Chateau Montelena
- Sutter Home
- Martini's
- Ledson
- Korbel

Here are the other photos:

Pacific Ocean, near Big Sur

Armstrong Redwoods near Santa Cruz (one of the redwoods cut down in the area sprouted around 550 AD!

Monterey, CA

Santa Cruz - Steamers Lane

Santa Cruz - Steamers Lane